Combining Genetics With Genealogy to Identify the Dead in Unmarked Graves

From an article written by the University of Montreal and published in the phys.org web site:

“In Quebec, gravestones did not come into common use until the second half of the 19th century, so historical cemeteries contain many unmarked graves. Inspired by colleagues at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, a team of researchers in genetics, archaeology and demography from three Quebec universities (Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi and Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières) conducted a study in which they combined genealogical information from BALSAC (a Quebec database that is the only one of its kind in the world) with genetic information from more than 960 modern Quebecers in order to access the genetic profile of Quebec’s historical population. The results, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, suggest the capabilities that this method may offer in the near future.”

Also:

“The first author of this study is Tommy Harding, a postdoctoral researcher at Université de Montréal who specializes in DNA sequencing. BALSAC, he said, ‘is a fabulous database for researchers, because both the quantity and the quality of the data that it contains are truly exceptional. The parish records meticulously kept by Catholic priests have been very well preserved so that today, thanks to advances in technology, it is possible to use this data to identify the bones from unmarked graves.'”

You can read a lot of details about how this was accomplished in the article at: https://phys.org/news/2020-02-anonymous-combining-genetics-genealogy-dead.html.

4 Comments

I know this isn’t your field but I had to share since it involved DNA and the University of Montreal!

https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/16/us/purse-found-ohio-school-wall-trnd/index.html

On Mon, Feb 24, 2020 at 12:47 PM Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter wrote:

> > > > * Dick Eastman posted: “From an article written by the University of > Montreal and published in the phys.org web site: “In > Quebec, gravestones did not come into common use until the second half of > the 19th century, so historical cemeteries contain many unmarked graves. > Inspired “

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Thanks for the article! My sister-in-law’s ADN is part of the Balsac project. Such a great one!
By the way, historian Gérard Bouchard is former Quebec PM Lucien Bouchard’s brother.

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    Years ago while researching at the LDS center in Los Angeles I met a lady who quickly had traced her Quebec ancestry back four hundred years very easily by the Catholic records in Quebec maintained by the LDS films.

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I read this article with interest as my ancestors are from that area. I can trace both of my father’s parents back to the 1600’s in Quebec, some from the areas mentioned. I used the available Catholic records. I guess I am concerned they may not be able to identify the remains of men from before 1850 due to the relatively small sample and limiting DNA from only that area. In my case, my grandfather’s family moved from Quebec to New England in 1871, not sure who was left in Canada. My grandmother’s family came to New England also but in a piecemeal manner, not all at once. I guess we can hope that the earlier generations were large enough to end up in the DNA of the sample that stayed in the area. They said in the article “Because of this limited genetic coverage, none of the men among these 12 per cent had the same genetic profile as any of the unidentified remains.” It seems they need to increase their sample to really achieve identifying remains. They probably should combine the DNA with some actual traced genealogy to include ‘known’ descendants of the early families in their sample. The records are good, so they should be used.

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